Posted by: Don Bemis | February 10, 2013

Harrison Bergeron and the Flubdub Machine

No stroke.

No ministroke.

Eyes look fine.

Maybe an ocular migraine.

Thanks to a blurry spot that morphed into a blurry circle which grew and wandered around my field of vision for about fifteen minutes before disappearing, I got to spend two nights at a five-star resort called Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo.  The staff was friendly and the food was good, but most resorts don’t wake you every four hours and poke you with pointed objects.

I didn’t start there.  My first stop was the South Haven Hospital emergency room.  The ER doctor checked my heart, widened her eyes, and said, “That’s some murmur!”

“That’s interesting,” quoth I.  “I never had one before.”

Things got a little crazier then.  I had experienced a possible symptom of stroke, which can be caused by blood clots, and murmuring heart valves sometimes shake clots loose.  It was time to feed me to the machines.

First was a CT scan, where you feel like a minor star with a minor planet whirring around your head.  It looks for internal bleeding.  Nope.  There really is a brain, believe it or not, and it looks normal.

Next was a chest X-ray.  That’s old hat these days, but X-rays were eXciting stuff when they were new.  Yep, he really does have a heart, no matter what anybody says.  It’s the right size, too.  Lungs are fine.

“You need an MRI, but we only do those on Tuesdays and Fridays.”  MRI looks for dead and ailing stuff.  If you get a stroke, a blood clot might give it dead and ailing stuff to look at.  This is a small hospital, on a Wednesday.  It’s fine to schedule MRIs in advance for the right problems, but stroke isn’t a right problem.  They put me in a courtesy shuttle with lights on the top and a bed in the back, and shipped me to the resort in Kazoo.

Bronson is a lot bigger than the South Haven hospital.  Both places are clean and friendly, and both staffs have memory trouble.  Why else would they ask me for my name and birthdate every time they come into the room?  At Bronson, they cheat by writing their names on a whiteboard across from the bed, just in case I ask.

Service at the Bronson resort goes as far as accompaniment to the bathroom.  Push the call button, wait for a PCA, and toddle all the way there without tipping over.  The PCA waits outside, just in case you pull the call cord instead of the flush handle.  They claim PCA is short for Personal Care Aide, but I know better.  It’s Potty Control Authority.

They eventually decided I wouldn’t tip over, and on the last day they let me go to the baffroom all by myself.  I’m a big boy now.

I also got to take a shower all by myself, as long as Lois kept an eye on the door.  I would call random names out to her.  It got pretty crowded, what with Rocket J. Squirrel, Bullwinkle J. Moose, and John T. Baptist all being there.

MRI is misnamed.  It’s the Harrison Bergeron Machine.  If you haven’t read Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, do so.  It’s set in the future when all people are equal.  Not created equal, because of course we aren’t.  Beautiful people are uglied up.  Strong people are burdened with weights.  Intelligent people receive implants that generate random distracting noises.

That’s what the Harrison Bergeron machine does.  They give you earplugs because it’s so loud.  Then they wedge you into a tube (“Lie perfectly still”) for 45 minutes.  Silence, KLUNK, tickatickaticka, whirr, silence, braap braap BRAAP braap, and so on.  About the time you think you’ve figured out the noise sequence, they change it.

The flubdub machine was more fun.  Officially an echocardiogram, it’s like the ultrasound you watch to see if the new nursery should be pink or blue.  I don’t have that channel, so instead we watched my heart go “flubdub flubdub flubdub”.  There are four heart valves.  Two go “flub”, and two go “dub”.  In my case, one dub valve (the mitral valve) goes “dubba”.  I could see it happen.  When it does, a little blood sneaks backward and goes “sss”.  That’s the murmur.

The mitral valve is the same shape as a bishop’s tall, pointed miter hat; hence the name.  Two flaps swing away from each other when the valve opens, and they slap against each other when it closes.  I’d like to see a bishop’s miter do that, just once, but the cardinal probably would object.

So what was the verdict?  No stroke, not even a little one, no evidence of damage, no arterial plaque buildup.  Blood pressure’s fine, blood’s fine except for cholesterol, and the heart murmurs.  No restrictions, take this pill every night, and get the heart checked twice a year for changes.

Oh, yes.  Lower your cholesterol.  I’m planning to cut the dining table legs a few inches shorter.  That and the pill ought to do it.

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